The announcement that Matthew Williams- the designer behind the label 1017 ALYX 9SM- had been appointed the new creative director at Givenchy came in the most 21st century way possible. The Californian designer recorded a voice note of himself expressing his excitement for his new role on the house’s Instagram account, saying “it’s been my life-long dream to be in this position, and it’s really surreal that it’s finally here”.
Williams will take over responsibility for both men’s and women’s collections from British designer Claire Waight Keller who left the role in April after three years with Givenchy. Waight Keller landed arguably the biggest job in fashion back in 2018, having designed Meghan Markle’s dress for the Royal Wedding. However, the British designer, also arguably, struggled to create a buzz around the brand’s ready to wear collections in the same way that Riccardo Tisci- now creative director of Burberry- did before her.
Well, if it’s buzz the Parisian house is after Williams certainly comes with it. Alyx has been one of the hottest brands around for a couple of years now and appeals to a wide range of people. Contemporary menswear enthusiasts, hypebeasts and fans of the avant-garde all flock to Alyx. This is a testament to Williams as a designer, as his aesthetic draws upon a wide range of influences.
Alyx has regularly- and perhaps unfairly- been tagged as “streetwear”, which Williams is reluctant to accept. Alyx does certainly contain some elements of streetwear in its design, having collaborated with Nike and Stussy recently as well as the brand’s signature rollercoaster belt which is one of the most sought after accessories on the planet. However, Williams’ designs are far more akin to avant-garde menswear than they are to brands like Supreme.
Williams draws from subcultures such as Berlin’s techno scene and the brand’s heavy use of black is almost gothic. Therefore, to call Williams a “streetwear” designer would be the same as calling Raf Simons or Helmut Lang “streetwear” designers, Williams definitely uses youth subcultures as inspiration for his designs but like Simons and Lang, his work is more sophisticated and elegant than the term allows for.
Williams’ collections for Alyx over the past couple of seasons have been stunning, to say the least. On the surface, his designs are elegantly minimalistic, with Williams focusing more on intricate detailing than branding. For example, the Spring/Summer 2020 show from last year’s Paris fashion week showcased Williams’ uses of chains, zips and his signature rollercoaster buckles to adorn pieces. Williams’ designs with Alyx also have an underlying edgy vibe which is a direct result of these subcultural influences. This can be seen in the Fall/Winter 2020 show from the most recent Paris fashion week, with its extensive use of leather including a jaw-dropping jacket and tie worn by Bella Hadid in the final walk of the show. Williams puts his use of materials and the shape and cuts of his pieces at the forefront of his designs. However, some people in fashion circles, not least on YouTube, have questioned whether his talents are best suited in the world of haute couture and at the house of Givenchy.
Williams is clearly a gifted designer but the detailed dressmaking of haute couture is a completely different world to the ready to wear collections many of us are familiar with. However, Williams does have some degree of experience in dressmaking having previously designed for Lady Gaga. Additionally, while Williams may not be as experienced as his predecessor Waight Keller- whose haute couture line was quite well received- he will most likely blow her largely lacklustre ready to wear collections out of the water. Williams has shown himself to be a fantastic tailor with his menswear collections and can easily modernise something like a blazer or an overcoat into something much more exciting. His accessories are also well received and will likely be a cornerstone of his work at Givenchy.
Givenchy have clearly made a bold choice in selecting Matthew Williams as their next creative director. The move comes with a lot of risks, as the role will be quite different from his work at Alyx. However, Williams’ unique avant-garde aesthetic brings with it a lot of appeals and could revive Givenchy’s ready to wear lines. Furthermore, if Williams can take the edgy subcultural undertones of his designs and apply them in the atelier then his haute couture collection may also flourish.
All images from Instagram
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Last modified: 25th June 2020